Despite the constant negative press that soft drinks receive in the media, Americans are hard-pressed to stop consuming their favorite sugary beverages. Every restaurant offers at least five different soft drink options, and every cafeteria or business has at least one vending machine that offers up to ten or more different sodas, sometimes for less than a dollar. Even convenience stores in America have prominent soft drink fountains, some even offering cups that can hold nearly a liter of sweet syrupy soda at a single time. It also comes in convenient plastic bottles ranging in size, along with the classic pop cans that can be found at retailers almost everywhere. Needless to say, soft drinks are an American favorite, and they are available nearly everywhere.
About 48% of people in the US drink soda daily, averaging about 2.6 glasses a day, adding up to a whopping 45 gallons of soda a year. Young adults are the leading consumers of soda, with 56% of the total numbers being from people aged 18-34 years old. These numbers, while they may be shocking, should not be that big of a surprise; after all, soda is responsible for the largest source of sugar in the American diet for children and adolescents.
Acidity of Soda
Besides the most apparent health concerns associated with consuming large amounts of sugar like obesity, heart disease, and diabetes, drinking soda can also be harmful to oral health. Along with containing a lot of sugar, soft drinks are also flooding the mouth and teeth with a lot of acidities, which can dissolve tooth enamel and cause irreparable damage.
The two most common acids used in soft drinks are citric acid and phosphoric acid. Citric acid is found in citrus-flavored soft drinks like Sprite, Crush, and Mountain Dew. Phosphoric acid is found in darker sodas like colas and is the more harmful acid of the two. Acidity is measured on the pH scale, where a pH of 7.00 is considered neutral. Any value trending towards 0 becomes more acidic, while amounts larger than 7.00 become more basic.
While it’s unrealistic to expect adults and children to forego soda altogether, it’s good to figure out which soft drinks are the worst for tooth health, as not all pop is created equal!
The Culprits from Bad to Worse:
- Diet Colas (Diet Coke, Diet Pepsi, Diet Dr. Pepper)
While diet sodas may have no sugar to harm the teeth, many of them still contain very high acidity that will wreck tooth enamel over an extended period of time. Diet Pepsi and Diet Dr. Pepper lead the way with the most acidity at 3.031 and 3.169, respectfully.
- Clear Diet Sodas (Diet 7Up, Diet Mt.Dew)
Just like their cola counterparts, clear diet sodas, while seeming like the healthier choice, still pack an acidic punch. Diet Mountain Dew leads with 3.365 while Diet 7Up weighs in slightly below at 3.706, making it the least harmful of classic sodas of the bunch, but still very acidic.
- Lemon Soda Teas (Lemon Brisk, Lemon Nestea)
Often a deceivingly “healthy” seeming choice at the vending machines, these tea-inspired soft drinks are still packing an acidity marker of 1.868 (Brisk) and 2.969 (Nestea). Along with sugar, the lemon-flavored additives crack the acidity factor even higher and are far from the least damaging option on the list.
*Ginger Ale deserves and honorable mention in this group, showing similar acidity levels at 2.82*
- Cherry Colas (Dr. Pepper, Cherry Coke)
Somewhat surprisingly, cherry-flavored soft drinks actually pack more acidity than their citrus-flavored equivalents, both diet and regular. Cherry Coke is nearly at the top of the list as the worst offender with 2.522, with Dr. Pepper close by at 2.899.
- Classic Cola (RC Cola, Coke, Pepsi)
Quite possibly the most iconic soft drinks, colas, are also the worst overall. The full sugar versions supply the highest acidity rates with RC Cola being the champion at 2.387, the very front runner of all options tested.
More Soda Facts
- Compared to other sugar beverage options like fruit juice, soft drinks have ten times the erosive potential within just three minutes after drinking.
- While it appears the worst offenders are citrus, and fruit-flavored dark colas, the light-colored soft drinks, teas, and ginger ale are all particularly harmful for tooth enamel.
- Teeth that come into contact regularly with soft drinks can lose up to 5% of their density and enamel weight over time.
- For perspective, battery acid rates at 1.0 on the pH scale, while Cola is not too far away at 2.387!
- Root Beer surprisingly has the least acidity of all other soft drink options. This is likely due to the fact that it doesn’t contain citric or phosphoric acids and is often non-carbonated.
- While juice and sports drinks also contain acidity, cola drinks reduce enamel hardness at a higher rate while also targeting the teeth’s dentin.
- While dark colas, including diet and fruit-flavored varieties, are at the top of the acidity chart and contain harmful phosphoric acid, non-cola soft drinks still cause two to five times the amount of damage.
- Iced tea soft drinks damage tooth enamel 30 times more than brewed tea or coffee.
When it comes to soft drinks, there really isn’t a lesser evil. It helps to swish water through the mouth while consuming these beverages to help reduce lasting damage, but ideally, they should not be a regular addition to daily meals. People may believe that non-cola soft drinks are less detrimental to teeth due to their lack of coloring, potentially avoiding staining. Still, they are equally as harmful to enamel, sometimes even more so when consumed in higher quantities.
Overall, avoiding soft drinks and giving them to children only as a treat can be difficult, especially when they are so readily available. An important factor in discouraging heavy soda consumption among children is to educate them on the unhealthy aspects of these beverages while also encouraging healthier options such as water or milk, or any drink that doesn’t contain such high amounts of sugar and acidity.
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